May the Son of God be at the outset of my journey,
May the Son of God be in surety to aid me;
May the Son of God make clear my way,
May the Son of God be at the end of my seeking.
Celtic Christianity can be summed up in two words: death and resurrection.
These are not “either, or” or “both, and”
phrases. They are simply the same experience from two perspectives.
Both build upon the constant Celtic theme: “redemption through travel —
reconciliation as the result of pilgrimage,” beginning and ending,
Narratologists, one who studies the narrative, suggest that there are only three basic story types: that of contact and broken contact, that of a task, or goal, to be reached, and that of departure and return; in Greek literature, Helen of Troy, the Trojan War, and the complete Odyssey, respectively. The Celtic pilgrimage is not about contact and broken contact, yet it is. Nor is it about a goal to be reached, although the “place of resurrection” is the quest of the pilgrimage. It is, however, about departure and return. Death and resurrection — mystical experiences indeed — transform the tarus, or journey, into pergrinatio, pilgrimage. In the words of the Irish mystic, T. S. Eliot, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” The story – the pilgrimage – is the authority, not the words, not the “facts.” Celtic Christianity is the story of sacramentally experiencing the mundane, the ordinary.
Celtic Christianity is driven by that gnawing discontent known to the Welsh as taithchwant, the overwhelming desire to experience on earth Tir Na n’ Og, our mystical home, in both mind and body. Hence, Celtic myth and legend is resplendent with immrama, Wonder Voyages, and Christian monks who relentlessly wander the face of the earth as the “wind of God blows.” Here is a homesickness — a mystical sort of thing — that pulls us, first one way to those places of resurrection, then equally the other way to our place of birth; always through poustina, the wilderness, where all is seemingly dead or dying. Hiraeth, the Welsh call it, and it is hiraeth coupled with taithchwant that makes Celtic Christianity unique among all Christianities. It ishiraeth and taithchwant that brings rise out of the poustina ecstatic mysticism. Known as gorfoleddu by eighteenth century Welsh Methodists, it comes with all true spiritual revival, revival that while in the midst of death and resurrection, can only be fully experienced in the mundane of everyday life. Celtic Christianity did not teach that gorfoleddu was a heavenly potential. Always practical, Celtic Christians knew that God can only be fully experienced in the here and now. Yet, in this here and now experience, Tir Na n’ Og is achieved.
This is Celtic Christianity! It may be said, and certainly the Celtic Christian recognized it, the Celtic Christian experience — the pergrinatio — is the wilderness experience of the Hebrew Children. It is the agony and glory of Christ upon the cross. It is the life and death of everyday living in a hostile world. And as such, has much to offer our modern experience of seemingly endless spiritual death.
ym brin in tyno. In inysset mor im pop fort it elher
rac crist guin nid oes inialet
On the hill, in the valley, in the islands of the sea, everywhere you may go,
before blessed Christ there is no desert place.
As in this verse from Llyfr Du Caerfyrddinor, for the Celtic
Christian, even while in the desert, there is always spiritual
resurrection, death and Life comingled. The spiritual loneliness of the
desert place is transformed by the living presence of Christ, the
Logos, the Great Song of creation. And herein,
lies another great truth of Celtic Christianity. It is the Creative
Song known to the Celts as Oran Mór, “The Great Song,” that is both the
Taithchwant and the hiraeth. And it is the Oran Mór
that gives rise to, and is, gorfoleddu. The language of
creation is the mystical language of Celtic Christianity.
the lowing of cattle,
the leaves rustling in the wind, the cascade of the river.
No king could hire such music with gold, it is the music of Christ himself, given freely.
Celtic Christianity flows not from dogma imposed by the Church, but from freely experiencing the mystical language of Christ — taithchwant and hiraeth, — the deaths and resurrection of everyday life.
But Herlyn opened the obstinate door. and we heard the cry of the country in its pain, the red barking of the industrial dust, and saw the bread, the wine, and the cross.
These words of Welsh poet, David Gwenalt Jones, from his monumental work, ’Y Drws (The Door), say it so well, Celtic Christianity not only flows from pilgrimage, it also flows within the pilgrimage herself, within the death and resurrection of everyday life, of Creation herself.
The Welsh bard, Taliesin, rightly claimed that never was there a time that Christianity was not among the Celts. For to understand Celtic Christianity’s mystical nature we must begin before the beginning; way before the coming of Christianity, way before there was even an earth. There is a insightful tale that the seventeenth century French priest, Christophe de Vega, included in his Life of St. Anne, who it is said was a Breton Celt.
In the beginning God created the Joachim and Anne (heaven and earth). And the Anne was barren (without form and void). And darkness (affiiction and confusion) was upon the face ofAnne (the deep), and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of waters (Anne’s tears) to consol her. And God said, ’Let there be light ... and the gathering of the graces (Anne’s tears) he called maria (“seas” or “Mary”).
Father de Vega clearly equates St. Anne with Ann (Danu), the primordial Celtic mother goddess. In doing so, he reminds us that for the Celts, it all began when the primordial breath of God moved across the waters and from the Quiet arose the “Great Song” — the Creative Melody — the Oran Mór.
© Frank A. Mills, 1995-2020